Police have issued a warning over illegal metal detecting reported heritage crime Picture: North Dorset Police

Police have issued a warning over illegal metal detecting so-called ‘nighthawking‘. It happened after they got reports of metal detectorists digging illegally at a Dorset heritage site.

The ‘heritage crime’ reportedly took place at Castle Hill in Shaftesbury, North Dorset. And police have warned that the offence could result in a prison sentence.

A spokesman for North Dorset Police said: “As you know Dorset is full of history. However you cannot just dig it up and do illegal metal detecting. Report of heritage crime in Shaftesbury with metal detectorists digging up areas of Castle Hill.

“Often termed ‘nighthawking’ – permission is required from the landowner. Or in case of scheduled monuments, the secretary of state for culture.

“A person must declare finds. And breaches can result in a fine or prison.”

What is illegal metal detecting in the UK?

In England and Wales, you need permission from the landowner for metal detecting. Unless the site is historically protected, in which case all metal detecting is illegal.

Indeed, if you find treasure – gold or silver – you have to report it. Failure to do so is a crime.

Illegal metal detecting is a threat for the UK heritage. Photo by Jack B.
Illegal metal detecting is a threat for the UK heritage. Photo by Jack B.

Metal detecting can take place in an outdoor public place.

Also, you must have the permission of the landowner to detect on the land. Finally, you should contact your local council or district councils to check the local policies regarding detecting on public land in your area as you may need a formal permit.

Historical brief about Dorset

Dorset is a county with a cover of history, from the prehistoric to the modern day. Maiden Castle is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Europe. Its location is very convenient for travel – just 2 miles from Dorchester. The Cerne Abbas Giant is an ancient chalk hill figure. It’s possible to see it for miles around. No-one is sure exactly when the figure has originally appeared. But it remains one of Britain’s best known chalk hill figures. It is a symbol of fertility as well.

Visitors to Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck should not miss the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle. It has been besieged by the Parliamentarians and then slighted during the English Civil War. Inland from the coast you will find the village of Tolpuddle. This is a home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, whose arrest and sentencing led to the foundation of modern day trade unionism.

Finally, Gold Hill in Shaftesbury must surely be one of the most recognisable streets in the UK. This steep cobbled street appeared in the 1973 “Boy on Bike” television advertisement for Hovis bread. And the video is also the Britain’s favourite advert of all time!

Initial sources: Dorset Echo, Historic UK